Flu, RSV and COVID-19 infections all are skyrocketing as we’re in the holiday season.

“We are officially in respiratory viral season. That includes everything you can think of from the common cold to more severe illnesses, and it has begun with a vengeance,” said Dr. Michelle Barron, senior medical director of infection prevention and control for UCHealth and one of the top infectious disease experts in Colorado.

“Sometimes we have a slow start to the respiratory season. Not this year,” Barron said. “We went from nothing to hundreds of cases in a very short time frame.”

Barron is advising people who are sick to avoid large gatherings.

We don’t have to go back to the isolation of the 2020. But Barron is encouraging people to think of others before they travel or show up at a big dinner or another holiday gathering.

“Use your common sense. If you’re sick, you don’t want to give your illness to loved ones. At the end of the day, the goal is to still be able to do things and enjoy the holidays. Just do it in a way that doesn’t impact others badly,” said Barron.

Her guidance is straightforward and familiar to most people since this is the third holiday season we’re facing since the pandemic began in early 2020.

• Getting vaccinated to prevent COVID-19 and flu. Note: There’s no vaccination yet to prevent RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus).

• Staying home from work, holiday gatherings and parties if you’re sick.

• Washing your hands frequently.

• Wearing a mask in crowded indoor settings.

• Testing yourself or going to your doctor’s office to get tested if you are sick.

• Seeking emergency medical care immediately if you or your child can’t breathe.

• Get preventive care like regular vaccines and keep current on medications for chronic illnesses like diabetes.

“Now is the time. If you have not done it yet, get your flu shot and your COVID-19 bivalent booster,” Barron said. Health experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also are urging people to think about indoor air quality. Keep in mind that respiratory illnesses spread through the air. Using air filters and opening windows to ventilate crowded indoor settings can help reduce the spread of respiratory illness.

The spread of flu has been high for weeks in parts of the southern United States. Infections and hospitalizations now are increasing in Colorado and surrounding states.

Colorado health officials have begun a text and email campaign to notify adults ages 65 and older that they should be sure to get their flu vaccines. Many people are tired of being careful or wearing masks. But the evidence is clear. Wearing a mask on a plane or in a crowded grocery story can drive down infection rates.

“There is zero debate on this,” Barron said. “Masking works. If you really want to see your loved ones during vacation, wearing a mask will help you prevent the spread of illnesses.”

Mary Duran is UCHealth Southern Region Older Adult Program Outreach Manager.

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